THERE really is no issue quite like the discussion of transgender people that can convince otherwise sensible folk to abandon all reason.

I would have thought that news of a schoolchild in England “identifying as a cat” would have seemed outlandish enough to have given media outlets pause for thought.

Instead, last week was a frenzy of news coverage and commentary on an incident in a Sussex school, where a leaked recording of a conversation between a teacher and two pupils took place.

Except… there was no child identifying as a cat.

The school accused of harbouring this feline fugitive has denied that any of their pupils identify as anything other than human. In fact, as far as I can see, the only actual cat involved in this story is the dead one being used to distract from the Conservative’s abysmal failure to deal with the spiralling cost of living crisis.

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And so, as we start a fresh week, I think it’s time for the UK’s media to collectively pause for a moment, catch its breath, and task itself: what the hell was all that about – and why were we so ready to be deceived?

If any of the many, many writers who covered this “story” had bothered to listen to the exchange between the teacher and her pupils with a critical eye, they may have realised that even the recording itself didn’t really say there was a child claiming to be a cat in their classroom.

Rather, the dialogue seems to be more analogous than direct, being used instead to conflate transgender identities as being on par with claiming to be a cat, much like how opponents of gay marriage often cried “What next? Will we be able to marry a toaster?” in response to calls for equality.

However, homosexuality and transgender identities are both observable facets of the human experience, each with long, recorded histories around the world.

Outside of fairytales, claims of animal transmogrification and household appliance meet-cutes are much less so. They are not comparable, and are a prime example of the slippery slope fallacy.

What has really been overlooked by the press, so quick to use this as a tool to beat transgender people with, is that on the face of it this is really a story about a teacher pulling up two girls for bullying another child.

While the leaked recording starts late into the discussion, conveniently leaving some much needed context on the cutting room floor, we do get a glimmer of insight into what led up to this moment when the teacher states that the chastised pupils have upset someone by “saying things like [they] ‘should be in an asylum’”.

I’d hate to think how it feels to be that child this week, and I am genuinely sickened by how the entirety of the British press in near unanimity came crashing down with such blood hungry animosity onto an innocent child while exonerating their bullies.

And instead of treating the claim with the kind of scepticism that any journalist with a hint of self-worth should have employed, we got endless, tedious conversations about a fictional threat that has been circulating on far-right online forums for months.

This isn’t the first time the press of a country has lost its collective ability to reason over such stories. Claims of litterboxes being left out for children identifying as cats have scraped their way through US and European news agencies many times over already, and every time they have been revealed to have been as real as when tabloid papers fabricated a story that child murderer Ian Huntley was now transgender.

I honestly question the ability of any journalist who ran this story without question, as I do the ability of any politician who even entertained the idea instead of immediately shutting it down. Yes, I’m looking at you Keir Starmer.

Now the targeted school is under threat of being investigated by Ofsted, thanks to pressure from Tory MP Kemi Badenoch and no doubt in part due to the media frenzy kicked up by such a hostile press.

All in service of creating a Section 28-like culture of silence, where teachers can’t discuss the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people without fear that they’ll be the next target of a smear campaign from the media, hand-in-hand with the government. To hear how the girls on the recording spoke of a fellow classmate, it is clear that a better understanding of trans people is needed.

And while the furore of this past week dies down, and the tabloids seek their next victim, the consequences of their culture war are felt by those they victimise. Fascists this weekend organised to stop a drag queen story event in London, attacking and leaving bloodied the activists who showed up to protect the pub from violence. Anecdotally, I know of many LGBTQ+ people (myself included) who can see the growing hostility toward them, and have experienced violence as a result.

While the Conservatives were riding this latest wave of outrage and fear, shoring up their message that only they can save Britain from the woke blah blah blah – the UK continues soaring toward another terrifying recession that will once again demand that those with the least should sacrifice the most.

The newspapers and broadcasters who have contributed to this, and continue to do so, should take a hard look at themselves after the events of these past seven days. A very poor week for journalism indeed.